About two months ago in March 2021, the federal minister for power celebrated the completion of a power transmission line in record time, which would become the conduit for an additional 450 megawatts of electricity from the national grid to Karachi.

Just a few days ago, Federal Ministers Asad Umar and Ali Zaidi were lauding the role the government had played in supplying this additional power to Karachi from the national grid.

Umar called it as the beginning of a plan to increase power supply to Karachi by up to 2,000MW in three years. Zaidi appreciated that Karachi was able to spend this Ramazan with no load-shedding during Sehr and Iftar.

All was well in the paradise. Imagine the surprise for the 20 million citizens when they woke up hearing the same government calling for blood-like Shylock asking for his pound of flesh.

Read: NTDC installs shunt reactors on Jamshoro-Dadu transmission line

Headlines flashed angry, threatening messages about taking K-Electric – Karachi’s sole power provider – under government control and reports carried a thinly veiled ultimatum to disconnect the additional power supply by May 30, 2021. All this in a span of just four days!

While the U-turn has become a trademark symbol of the government, this move still begs the question as to why it’s happening.

Is Karachi being made to suffer because the policymakers hold a grudge against the city for what happened in NA-249? Is the government adopting a “good cop, bad cop” routine to squeeze funds out of Pakistan’s economic hub to settle its payments of over Rs90 billion to the IPPs, a hole it dug for itself?

We don’t have the answers to these questions, but we do know that the ultimate loser of this wishy-washy decision-making will be Karachi.

The 450MW being supplied to the city is helping the country’s GDP. It is also hardly 1% of the installed capacity of 35,735MW the country has. Most importantly, this 450MW is part of the excess generation capacity the country has celebrated – and the government is already racking up a bill paying generation companies for just producing this power.

Not putting it to use is as pointless as turning your car on, but leaving it motionless in your driveway. At least in this example, the car won’t take any untoward U-turns.

Read more: Govt makes changes in transmission line deal

What we also know is that the government is under tremendous pressure to control circular debt, and is locked in a tussle with the IMF over terms and conditions for the financing requirements (wherein there are several more U-turns).

With just a few weeks left before the end of the fiscal year, maybe this entire performance is a way to demonstrate they have more bite to their bark and force a resolution to save face. But we know this isn’t a sustainable approach.

How will this consistently inconsistent approach attract any foreign investors? Who benefits from subjecting private businesses to an environment that isn’t conducive to their growth?

We do not know. What we do know is that for better or worse, Karachi is part of this bumpy, twisting ride. What we do know is that Karachi demands an explanation on why the federal government is reneging on its commitments and forsaking the city it touts to be the nation’s growth engine.

 

Published in The Express Tribune, May 24th, 2021.

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